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OVER A QUARTER CENTURY OF DEDICATION TO PROTECTING, PRESERVING AND PROMOTING EROTIC ART.

DISPATCH FALL 2002

TOM'S INFLUENCE ON SOCIETY
PART 1: LEATHER & UNIFORMS 

Working from his northern studio close to the North Pole in Finland, Touko Laaksonen, aka ďTom of Finland,Ē had a wide-ranging influence on erotic art, culture, and society at large in the last half of the 20th Century, an influence that has increased rather than diminished since his death in 1991.  

Tom of Finland, pencil on paper, 1952

Upcoming Dispatches will highlight specific influences that our namesake had on other artists of his and successive generationsóhow Tom influenced, and continues to influence, modes of representation of the gay male lifestyle in art and photography, the sexual (and racial) politics inherent in his vision of a gay utopia, the positive reinforcement his imagery has given to generations of gay males, the fetishistic attention to clothing and uniforms that characterizes his work, even the newfound attention that fashion couturiers now pay to his art.

As his work continues to infiltrate the mainstream, Tomís influence ripples through popular culture in ever-widening circles.

At the end of WWII, Tom began drawing men in military uniformsóknee-high boots, jodhpurs, and the classic officerís cap, now a staple of the leathermanís uniform. Initially, Tom portrayed his men in WWII brown leather, evincing a distinct fashion sensibility. Subsequently, in 1950, Tom was introduced to the classic black leather jacket worn by returning American GIís who visited Finland in the postwar years, building on the camaraderie with their former brothers-in-arms by buying Harley Davidson and Indian motorcycles and getting together to raise hell.

Realizing that black was much sexier, Tom transformed his men into black leather officers and motorcycle toughs. Tom sent prints of his creations to friends in England, Germany, and Sweden who reciprocated by sending Tom photos of their newly designed leather ensembles incorporating his look and style.

Newly inspired, Tom continued to expand and develop this symbiotic relationship. Hence, the leather bikerís cap evolved from the officerís cap of WWII, and the now familiar side-flared leather breeches descended from the dress uniform of WWII German officers. The knee-high boot with the double and triple buckle was a Tom of Finland original. (Tom had something for buckles, and the more the merrier.) But Tomís influence wasnít limited only to the gay leather scene. It was adopted by Englandís Teddy Boy rockers and eventually infiltrated America as the unofficial bikerís uniform of leather motorcycle cap and white socks pulled and folded above the top of the boot, another Tom original, and a look that gained further veracity when it was worn by Marlon Brando in The Wild One (1954) and Elvis Presley in his publicity photos. As the leather scene of the past half-century evolved, it transcended traditional sexual boundaries of straight and gay as gays adopted Tomís ethos of pure, unbridled masculinity as their own within the burgeoning gay subculture.

Some years back the Foundation had a booth at a heterosexual swingersí convention in San Diego. A strapping, good looking man wearing knee-high riding boots introduced himself and informed us that Tomís men, with their pure sexuality, represented his ideal of the ubermensch. His only disappointment, he added, was that Tom didnít include more women engaging in sex with his men, but it wasnít acute enough to prevent him purchasing a book on Tom for his 21-year-old son, whom he felt needed to see the strong male prowess that characterized Tomís ubermen.

Taschen Verlag, who first published a monogram book on Tom, followed by the compendium Tom of Finland: Art of Pleasure, recently re-released in a smaller format, has announced it will publish a high-end book in Spring 2003 working only with the original drawings of Tom of Finland.

     ó  Durk Dehner


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THE LOUVRE
“I know my little ‘dirty drawings’ are never going to hang in the main salons of the Louvre, but it would be nice if — I would like to say ‘when,’ but I better say ‘if’ — our world learns to accept all the different ways of loving. Then maybe I could have a place in one of the smaller side rooms.” (1991)
— Tom of Finland